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‘A League of Their Own’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 01, 1992

When it comes to harvesting that corny field of dreams, "A League of Their Own" plays hardball with the best of the boy movies. A swoony, comic salute to the wartime heroics of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the movie focuses on the combative relationship between the catcher (Geena Davis) and her sister, the pitcher (Lori Petty) of the Rockford Peaches. In other words, it's "Belle Durham," with a comparable slew of zany good sports.

When America's major league jocks went off to war, America's women pulled themselves up by their bra straps and saved the national pastime, proving to the doubting fans that indeed diamonds are a girl's best friend. And their gutsy athleticism, wholesome good looks and hair-curling camaraderie are the backbone of this cornfed biography, cheerily directed by Penny Marshall from "City Slickers" writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel's problematic screenplay. Like "Batman Returns," it's full of bluster and ultimately cheats the story's protagonist of her rightful due.

Bracketed by wearisome scenes of the team's 1988 reunion, Davis, Petty, Madonna and teammates are lamentably left languishing in the bullpen. By the time stars Davis and Petty literally get up to bat, the flagging story gets a much needed goose from comic relief pitcher and "Saturday Night Live" alum Jon Lovitz (warming up the audience for Tom Hanks). While Davis and Petty steal bases, Lovitz steals scenes as a brusque, fast-talking scout who signs the two sisters for the league's Wrigleyesque owner-originator (Garry Marshall).

While escorting the two to Chicago for the league tryouts, Lovitz stops to scout a power-hitting double threat (Megan Cavanagh) in Colorado. When he deems her too homely for the league, the girl's humble father gives a speech that not only moves the hardened scout, but draws audible "ahhhhs" from women in the audience. Cavanagh, slumped into herself on the railroad platform, is reluctant to board the train. "See, how it works is the train moves, not the station," cracks Lovitz, who alas vanishes when they reach the second city.

At the tryouts, the three country girls are confronted by the flirty dime-a-dance girl (Madonna) and the mouthy dance hall bouncer (Rosie O'Donnell) who play center field and third base respectively for the Peaches. O'Donnell, a VH1 veejay in her movie debut, makes Madonna look like the virgin as the louder half of this pairing. By the time top-billed Mr. Hanks arrives, he's got some seventh-inning stretching to do as a self-pitying has-been who becomes the Peaches' reluctant manager. Drunk and dribbling tobacco spittle, he snores through the games till one day, for no particular reason other than that the script demands it, he takes a sudden interest in his team.

Last, but far from least, Hanks, playing an umpire-cussing butt-kicker utterly flummoxed by the feminine ways of his players, finds a teamful of perfect foils. A cross between Mr. Mom and Tommy Lasorda, he has his funniest scenes with the charming Bitty Schram as a ditsy right fielder who cries when he upbraids her play. "There's no crying in baseball!" he screams.

Most frequently, though, he locks horns with catcher Davis, who has been managing the team while he soulfully scratches himself in the dugout. A romantic relationship seems on the verge of developing, but Davis is happily married to a great-looking soldier. As the league's best player, she is the envy of her sister, a pesky little whiner who blames all her troubles on her older sibling. A strain develops between the two and Petty is transferred to the Racine Belles, who will eventually come against the Peaches in the women's World Series. The resolution, decidedly the least satisfying since Casey struck out, finds the heroine getting an unnecessary comeuppance while her sister wins undue laurels.

Filled as it is with unforced errors, "A League of Their Own" isn't a perfect picture, but it is irresistibly ebullient with not one, but nine Babes on base. Aside from several especially awkward attempts to politically correct history, it evokes the moxie of World War II America. Graced by Davis and enlivened by Lovitz and the ensemble cast, it sends us home feeling a little higher, with visions of peanuts and Cracker Jack floating in our heads.

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